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136

B-

his foot and would hear no explanations. He said the
ward had gone mad, that he would send them all to the
devil out of here, and went out panting and upbraiding
everybody without having ascertained what had really
happened. A few moments later Klavdia Mikhailovna
came into the ward with tear-stained face and looking
very much upset. She had just received a severe dressing-
down from Vasily Vasilyevich, but she caught sight of
the ashen-grey, lifeless face of the Commissar who was
lying motionless with eyes shut, and rushed to him.

In the evening the Commissar felt very ill. They gave
him an injection of camphor, and then they gave him
oxygen, but he remained unconscious for a long time.
The moment he came to, However, he tried to smile at
Klavdia Mikhailovna, who was standing over him with
the oxygen bag.

"Don't worry, nurse, I'll come back even from hell to
bring you the stuff the devils use to get rid of freckles."

It was terrible to watch this big, powerful man grow-
ing feebler every day in the fierce struggle he was wag-
ing against his infirmity,

Meresyev too grew weaker with every passing day.
In the next letter he wrote her, he even told the "meteo-
rological sergeant", the only person to whom he now
confided his grief, that he would probably not leave the
hospital alive and that that would be for the best, for an
airman without feet was like a bird without wings,
which could still live and pick its food, but flynever!
He did not want to be a wingless bird and was prepared
for the worst, if only it came soon. It was cruel to write
like that, for in the course of their correspondence the
girl had confessed that for a long time now she had
not been indifferent to "Comrade Senior Lieutenant" and
that if it had not been for his terrible blow she would
never have disclosed her secret.
"She wants to get married. Men are at a premium now.
What does she care about a fellow having feet or not as
long as the pension is good," commented Kukushkin, as
surly as ever.